Why McLaren F1 exit was a “blessing in disguise” for Ricciardo

With his trademark smile and practical jokes, Ricciardo is undoubtedly one of the most popular drivers on the F1 grid. But losing his seat following the early termination of his contract at McLaren in 2022 led him on a path of self-reflection that changed the man underneath the helmet and made him fall in love with F1 again. 
One year on, Ricciardo seems back to his old self after stepping in half-season at his old outfit AlphaTauri and putting in several convincing performances. Speaking to Autosport, Ricciardo opened up about how taking time out gave him a different perspective on his career and life. 

“When you go through something, obviously it can change you a little bit and give you maybe a different perspective, or make you appreciate the good times more or understand how to handle the low. Or when you were down, maybe then you realise what’s important to you and what isn’t,” Ricciardo said.  

“So, just through all of that stuff, I think you learn a lot about yourself. And I think coming out of it, I realised that I still really love this, I still do believe in myself.” 

On a deeper level rekindling his love for F1 and regaining confidence helped Ricciardo view his life and career in a different way. For the Australian to become the best version of himself, it meant working on his paddock image and being taken more seriously while also not getting lost in details like during his McLaren stint.

“I don’t want to carry the weight of the world on my shoulders, because it should still be fun. And yes, I’m going to take it seriously,” he explained.

“I’m going to try to be the best version of myself. But I just don’t want it to consume every part of me to a point where I’m not enjoying other aspects of my life, because then that’s just not the way it should be. And that’s not the way I’ve always gone about racing.”

Marshals deal with the damaged car of Daniel Ricciardo, AlphaTauri AT04

Photo by: Simon Galloway / Motorsport Images

Marshals deal with the damaged car of Daniel Ricciardo, AlphaTauri AT04

Only two races into his F1 return with AlphaTauri, the 34-year-old encountered another setback when he broke his hand during what he described to be a “pretty pathetic crash” in practice for the Dutch Grand Prix, which he admitted “took the wind of my sails”.

“I just felt hungry and motivated again, like my old self, and I was loving it. So then for that to happen, it did temporarily take a bit of wind out of my sails,” he elaborated.

“I just tried to think ahead, to the quickest way I can get better and recover again, and I just refused to let the hard work I’d put in the whole year to get back to that place come undone because of an injury.”

Speaking about how he has toned down his paddock appearance after entering the Austin paddock on a horse in 2022, he said: “Look the hand [injury] has been [a lot].

“I don’t want to come in and have too much joking or messing around because I’ve had so much more on my plate that I still want to make sure that I am perceived as someone who is hungry and motivated and not just someone that’s here to be here.”

But after losing his confidence at McLaren, which also led to a loss of passion for the job, he now feels his premature McLaren exit was a “blessing in disguise”, forcing him to reconnect with himself on a deeper level and turning that negativity into something more positive.

“Look, as uncomfortable at times the McLaren situation was, it was a blessing in disguise. Let’s say they cancelled my contract because I needed to step away to kind of re-find myself, re-find my love and get the hunger back as well.  

Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren

“I think there were a lot of elements that had just been a little bit hurt or bruised from it all, like my drive and my motivation. So, I just needed to find that again and that time away gave that to me.” 

Ricciardo’s break from F1 also helped him pursue his interests outside of motor racing to avoid any “fear of retiring” for good one day.

“I wanted to make sure that I was still able to have other hobbies and interests in life because coming back into the sport it kind of makes it feel as serious as I want to take it.  

“It just made it feel like it’s not the be-all and, end-all. So yeah, I did choose to do things and pursue other avenues of life. And also make sure that I’ve got other passions and interests and not have a fear of retiring one day ultimately.

“So, part of it was exploring a little bit of that, and what keeps me ticking and smiling. 

“There were definitely moments where I just wanted to be alone and just wanted to be in my own thoughts and understand what crossroads I’m at in life. And the emotion in me was at times like, ‘I don’t want to race again”.  

“But I knew I needed time to let that settle and understand truly what my heart desired. And ultimately, I felt like I was getting that answer more and more.”

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